Hey Dad, wanna play?
This time of year, I miss my kids. I know what you’re thinking: wah, wah. You’re covering the Jayhawks. Tough job. Ronnie Chalmers, of course, doesn’t have that problem. As director of basketball operations for the men’s basketball team at KU, he’s around his son – freshman guard Mario – a lot. How cool is that? Plenty. “I’m proud of him, because this is something that Mario has wanted since he was 2 years old,” Ronnie told me the other day before practice. “You know, he came out of the womb shooting baskets.” He’s saying this like he’s been asked about it a million times before, but the smile on his face says he never gets tired of answering the question. Ronnie Chalmers is the father of a certified Division I basketball star who’s about to play for a shot college basketball’s biggest prize. “He’s getting a chance to live his dream,” Ronnie says. Around him, the locker room is alive with nervous energy, kind of like a classroom on the first day of school. Everyone’s happy to be back from summer vacation, seeing friends and trading stories – the kind of excitement that builds until you realize that soon you’ll once again be learning multiplication tables or state capitals or whatever else the teacher wants. That’s when I notice Mario over on the other side of the room, playing tag with Darnell Jackson and C.J. Giles. It’s like they’re itching to get outside for recess, shoot some hoops. Mario clearly is the leader in this game, just as he is on the court. He stares straight ahead, like he’s paying attention to the teacher, before reaching back and slapping Jackson in the gut, all without moving his head or changing expression. Call it a no-look tag. “Time out!” he calls softly, apparently rendering him immune to becoming “it.” Jackson and Giles are moving all over the place, like they don’t care who’s paying attention. Maybe Mario knows his Dad is watching. I still don’t get a vibe on what Ronnie Chalmers is thinking during this little exchange. But of this much I’m sure: He is a Dad who gets to be around his son at one of the most important times of his life. And he’s loving it. “I’m able to be here and to be able to see him live out his dream,” he said. “It makes me really proud.” Random question: So I’m catching up with tournament action by watching “Sportscenter,” and I hear Scott Van Pelt give yet another shout-out to The Wheel in Lawrence, the iconic bar that he and Neil Everett visited after the Big Monday game against Texas Tech this season at Allen Fieldhouse. What do you think brought on this love affair: the drinks, the locale, the jukebox, the writing on the walls? I know Van Pelt must find the food satisfying – he mentions the “Wang” burger every now and then – but just what is it that makes the place so hot for KU fans and out-of-town visitors?